Monday, May 26, 2008

The Foreknowledge of God Infers a Decree

The foreknowledge of God infers a decree in various ways:

1) That God has knowledge of a factual event necessarily means that He approved that the event should be, granting that God is omnipotent.

If God approved of the event, then it is His will that the event should come to pass, and it is not His will that it should not come to pass. This is the same as saying that the event is decreed.

God is timeless, eternal, and He is unchanging. His purpose is unchanging. God's decree is timeless, eternal, and logically before all events themselves:

Because the realization of the event is contingent upon God's approval, that is, the event certainly comes to pass because God approves that it comes to pass, and if He did not approve of its realization, it would not come to pass, thus it necessarily follows that the decree logically precedes the factuality of the event, and therefore the decree precedes foreknowledge, which is certain knowledge of all things future or unrealized.

An event is only possible before the decree, it is not factual: God is omnipotent, and this means that the power to cause or permit whatever He wishes and to prevent whatever He wishes is at His disposal. Thus, if it was that God was not pleased, universally and absolutely speaking, that an event should realize, then it would not realize, for otherwise - remembering God's omnipotence and capacity to prevent the event - God would not have the power to stop the event, or, God desired that the event come to pass, for some reason, which in the former denies an orthodox doctrine, and in the latter, grants the supposition. "God is in the heavens, He does all that He pleases." Now, since an event will not realize if God is not pleased with its realization, then the event is not factual before God is pleased for it to be factual. If God is pleased that a future event realize, then the event will come to pass, absolutely and universally speaking, and if He is not pleased, then it will not. But His decision that it should come to pass is His decree - the decree precedes the factuality of the event, and indeed, determines the event’s factuality, if God is capable of obtaining that which is decreed, which He is, for He is omnipotent.

Therefore, since foreknowledge is the perfect awareness and knowledge of that which is factual, that which will certainly be, foreknowledge follows the decrees, logically speaking. One may infer that the foreknowledge is guaranteed because of the decree, which is evidenced more plainly in the second point.

2) That God has knowledge of a factual event from all eternity.

If an event is factual, it will come to pass, or has been, and it is eternally true that the event is, will be, or has been, given the limitations of language. In other words, the proposition that the event is factual is true.

Foreknowledge is awareness of all factual events. God knows all that will come to pass.

We have seen that the decree is that which guarantees the event’s factuality, by necessity, since the factuality of an event is eternally contingent on the decree.

Events are not necessary of themselves. That is, given no preceding cause that brings the event into being, the event will never be.

God alone is necessary. For He has said, "I AM," and He is called, "everlasting to everlasting," and "with the beginning and at the end." He created all things, and is Himself uncreated.

That which is not necessary by its nature must have its cause for being in that which is necessary by nature. For there is nothing else from which the sufficient cause for the being of that which is not necessary could arise.

Since all creation is not necessary, it has its cause for being in God alone. If an event is factual, it will come to pass, and therefore the event is eternally factual because it has an eternal sufficient cause. This sufficient cause rests ultimately in God alone: If it is said that there is another cause, then this is granting that something else has being by necessity apart from God, or that something was caused by no cause, which, in either case, is a contradiction.

If the foreknowledge of the event is certain, it must be guaranteed by something other that that which is known, for, as we have seen, the event cannot guarantee its own existence, for it is not necessary by nature. The certainty of eternal foreknowledge cannot rest in that which is not necessary in itself. It must rest in the certainty of the cause that brings the event into being. It may be likened to a chain, where the strength of the last 99 links is of no worth if the first one breaks.

Now if the foreknowledge of the event is certain, then the cause of the event is certain. The cause of the event rests in the only possible source of a sufficient cause, namely, God Himself. Yet, what is it in God Himself that guarantees that this event is factual? It is His choice or will or decree that the event should be. If He decreed, declared, or willed otherwise, He is omnipotent, and therefore the event would not be factual. But since the supposition is that the event is factual, and the foreknowledge is certain based on the cause of the being of the event, there is nothing else that guarantees the event but God's choice that the event should be, and His capacity to ensure this choice. And this is all the Calvinist means when he says, "God has decreed all things," for God's decree is His choice that something should come to pass, or not.

Thus, foreknowledge necessitates decrees, or, foreknowledge of an event necessitates a decree, or choice that the event should be, and the capacity to ensure this choice, for otherwise, the knowledge of the event is not be foreknowledge at all - since foreknowledge is certain knowledge of factuals – but merely natural knowledge of all possibilities, which are not yet realized or guaranteed.

If the perfect foreknowledge includes the awareness that the event will pass, this is no longer knowledge of a possibility, but of a fact, and as we have seen, this necessarily infers a decree that the event should be, and moreover, a decree that guarantees the event. For the event is not necessary in itself, and does not in itself allow for perfect foreknowledge.

It may be noted that all that which is in the body of perfect foreknowledge is by nature not merely possible. The proposition of the existence of all that is known by God is fact, and the proposition, which is not necessarily true in itself, since the existence of all that is known to come to pass is not by nature necessary, is true because God has decreed that which is a sufficient cause for the event to be, and therefore the proposition is true because of God's preceding decree (logically speaking).

Those things that are mere possibilities, eternally and absolutely speaking, have no being, and are mere ideas. Where are these ideas? Those things which have no being have no capacity to influence anything – counterfactuals are unrealized ideas in the minds of God. It is that which God has the freedom to decree to be factual, but, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen, absolutely and universally speaking, not to decree them to be factual and realize them via providence.

*Inspired by The Miscellanies on the Divine Decrees, from the Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume II.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

How Jesus Didn't Become Christian

One of the latest attacks on the Christian faith comes in the form of Barrie Wilson’s How Jesus Became Christian. He argues for the following:

- Paul's religion was not the religion of Jesus.
- There was a cover-up. The divine Gentile Christ was switched for the human Jewish Jesus. A religion about the Christ was substituted for the teachings of Jesus. Moreover, the religion of Paul displaced that of Jesus.
- The New Testament is not a neutral collection of early church writings. It was produced, selected, and approved by one -- but only one -- faction of early Christianity, the very group that endorsed the cover-up.
- The Book of Acts presents us with a fictitious history of early Christianity and represents an unreliable source of information.
- Anti-Semitism is rooted within New Testament writings and is the result of the cover-up.

Now, I haven't read too far into it, but I wanted to comment on a selection from the very beginning of the book.

How Jesus Became Christian is intended for general readers who are curious about the origins of Christianity, who are interested in the big picture, and who are perplexed by some of the same mysteries that have intrigued me over the years. How did the Jewish Jesus of history become the Gentile Christ of faith?

He didn't. Christians actually think Jesus was a Jew, not a Gentile, contrary to what you put forward here. I'd know. I'm a Christian.

I'll reserve further comment until I see his argument, which, is already looking like a straw man.

How did early Christianity become a separate religion from Judaism?

This is deceptive. Christianity is a Judaistic sect that holds that the man Jesus of Nazareth in the incarnate Son of God, the Messiah/Christ. The distinction lies therein - most forms of Judaism (save Messianic Judaism) reject Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. But Barrie already knows this, since he will shortly write:
In my own case, my journey has taken me from Episcopalianism into Judaism. I find that religion focusing primarily on behavior rather than on belief fits better with my sense of what religion should be.
That says a lot. But let's not get distracted by pointing out connections to Romans 1. He continues:

What really accounts for Christian anti-semitism?
Now, we must be a bit careful here. First of all, we aren't anti-semitic. But he refers, I think, more to the system of belief than the conduct or inclinations of individual Christians. But I'd have to read the whole book to be certain about that. He does write later (sorry, lost the page number in my notes):

One prominent view [that contributes to anti-semitism] concerns the oft-repeated charge that the Jews killed Jesus. Once again, the source of the mischief was Paul. In 1 Thessalonians, his indictment was made clear:
He then quotes 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, which reads: For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved--so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God's wrath has come upon them at last!"

He then comments:

Paul's language reflects an us versus them orientation. He does not use inclusive language - "us" or "some of us" - as if he himself were part of the Jewish people and blaming others within his ethnic group. Rather his language is "them." They killed Jesus. This passage was penned by a person who clearly stood outside the Jewish circle and wished to defame them, not the Romans. As we have seen, in light of Paul's views on Judaism, it was highly unlikely that he considered himself Jewish when writing his various letters. Nor would he have been perceived by Jews as Jewish.
This is the sort of deceptive rhetoric coming out of the "Paul hijacked Christianity" movement that disguised itself under the pretense of informed academic inquiry.

For starters, he doesn't bother weighing his commentary with the rest of Paul's writings. Paul explicitly considered himself to be Jewish:

Romans 9:1-5
"1 I am speaking the truth in Christ--I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit-- 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen."

Does that sound "anti-semitic" to you? Paul writes elsewhere:

Philippians 3:3-63
For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh-- 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.

Now folks, I want you to read those two passages again and then compare to what Wilson has written: "As we have seen, in light of Paul's views on Judaism, it was highly unlikely that he considered himself Jewish when writing his various letters." Right. This is the product of "two decades of reflection?"

Moreover, that Paul considered himself to be a "Hebrew of Hebrews," and "Israelite," with the Jews as his "kinsmen according to the flesh," destroys the principle under Wilson's argument that "He does not use inclusive language - "us" or "some of us" - as if he himself were part of the Jewish people and blaming others within his ethnic group." Wilson isn't dealing with the broad semantic range of the term "Jews" in the New Testament (for example, John has an almost technical meaning regarding it).

Not only that, but Wilson doesn't comment on Paul's other statements around the death of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 2:7-8
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Here Paul blames the rulers of this age -- which obviously included the Romans, and, in particular, Pontius Pilate. Paul was aware of Pilate's involvement as well:

1 Timothy 6:13
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession...

Furthermore, Christians have often said that the one who really killed Jesus was the Father:

Isaiah 53:10
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

The crucifixion doesn't in any way dispose us to anti-semitism. We recognize that our sinful selves were right there with the Jews and Romans, crying for Him to be murdered. But more than that, we recognize that Jesus willingly offered Himself up before the Father, and that the Father was the one who really crushed and killed Jesus, His own Son. And Wilson doesn't seem to mention that Paul knew this too:

Romans 8:32
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

So while Wilson charges "One prominent view [that contributes to anti-semitism] concerns the oft-repeated charge that the Jews killed Jesus. Once again, the source of the mischief was Paul," the N.T. doesn't agree, and nor does Christian theology. Unless, of course, to salvage some pretense of consistency Wilson would try to suggest something as absurd as saying that we are "anti-Yahwistic" because Yahweh crushed Jesus.

How do I view the Jewish involvement in crucifying Jesus? I'll let Acts speak:

Acts 4:26
26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'-- 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Luke, Paul's companion, notes Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and lastly the Jews for crucifying Jesus as they did that which God's hand and plan predestined to take place.

Moreover, should I mention that Mark recorded the crucifixion, and, not to go all pop-scholarship on my readers, "most scholars think" that Mark was one of the earliest Christian writings, influence by Peter, and not by Paul? I'll have to see if Wilson deals with this somewhere else in his book. It's hardly a "Pauline invention."

The sad thing is that there will be many who will read Wilson's assertions uncritically and actually believe this stuff.

So now that Wilson's "anti-semitic hypothesis" is shown to be untenable, let's move on to the rest of this introductory paragraph.

I first became aware of the Jewishness of Jesus in high school. A visiting speaker, a rabbi by the name of Dr. Joshua Stern of Temple Emanu-el in Montreal, introduced himself to a mixed Protestant-Jewish audience as, “My name is Jesus [Joshua]. Jesus was Jewish.” That was a new and interesting thought – both that Jesus’s name was really Yeshua (Joshua in English) and that he was Jewish.
Once again, this is deceptive. He says, "Jesus's name was really Yeshua (Joshua in English)." Is Wilson trying to say that Jesus's name is not really Jesus? Is Wilson is gambling on the ignorance of his readers, given the way he has framed this? Wilson is aware that Greek and Aramaic were the languages of the day in the time of Jesus (Hebrew would have been in use as well): The differences between forms of names is a product of language, not "Christian anti-semitism."

"Jesus" is the transliteration of the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew name Yeshua, which is Iēsous. Joshua the the English transliteration of the Hebrew form of the name Yeshua. Thus, the name of Jesus is not really Yeshua. The transliteration of Jesus' name from Hebrew is Joshua. The N.T was penned in Greek. Hence, we use the transliteration "Jesus" when dealing with the N.T, and "Joshua" with the Hebrew O.T.

I might point out that I don't have high hopes for the quality of the rest of the book. He's already slanting the issue.

I hadn’t realized that before, and it is one of the few things I remember from my entire high school education. I don’t think anyone intentionally hid that truth from me: Jesus’s Jewishness just wasn’t spoken of. Then or now.
He frames the issue as if Christians are actually anti-semitic. That we are embarrassed that Jesus was Jewish. That it took a Rabbi to come in and state the obvious - a fact that every Christian that I have ever met is well aware of.

Now, Wilson is welcome to join us for our bi-weekly Bible Study. It will provide him the opportunity to test his allegation that "Jesus's Jewishness just wasn't spoke of. Then or now."

But maybe Wilson's testimony is as much a comment to the shame of the general state of evangelicalism.

Snatch yourself out of His hand?

John 10:28
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

It is sometimes said that the believer, the lamb, can remove himself from God’s hand. It is said that this is simply speaking of others snatching them out. By way of reply, I contend that this does a great disservice to this passage, and offer these answers.

First, on a personal note, I am amazed that any sinner would want to trust in his own will and power to keep himself in God’s grasp. I am glad, for one thing, that this is not the case. My wicked and rebellious nature loves sin too much. If it were not for God’s efficacious and sovereign persevering grace, I would be lost in an instant. Some men fight to hold their destiny in their own hands, rather than have it be in God’s.

Second, this answer militates against the whole allegory of the sheep and the Shepherd. The Shepherd, if He is any good at what He does, will prevent this precise thing from happening! Sheep wander, and a good shepherd brings them back and keeps them from going into danger. He rescues them. He doesn’t respect their desires as they ignorantly wander about. Moreover, the term for bring (vs. 1-5) has an air of force about it, d in verse 16, when Jesus says that He must bring the sheep of the other fold, the word ago means to bring by laying hold of when used of animals. So the text even directly militates against the idea that one could leave of his own will. Not only so, but to turn from Christ is to sin, and to sin is to be a slave to sin, and this is not freedom, but bondage to do the devil’s desires (cf. John 8).

Third, the one who objects in this way, saying the sheep can remove himself, has missed the real thrust of the passage. It speaks of the power of Christ to keep the sheep in His hand, for one thing. And in this passage, Jesus says that by His power He gives these sheep eternal life and they will never perish. Is this promise a lie? It cannot hold true for “his own” and the sheep of the other fold, if they can remove themselves from his hand. But He says that they will never perish. So the idea that they can remove themselves and so perish is eliminated.

Fourth, it is a theme throughout John that God’s own believe because they are God’s own. Those who do not believe do not believe because they are not His sheep. But to remove oneself from Christ’s hand would be to disbelieve. Otherwise, one would be following the Shepherd! But Christ has said that the reason one does not believe is because this one is not His sheep. So how is it that one who is His sheep could disbelieve, since this one fails the condition for disbelieving – since the reason that anyone does not believe is because he is not of Christ’s flock? And moreover, Jesus says that all who are His own will follow Him and will hear Him and they do follow Him and they will certainly not follow a stranger. All who are given to Him for salvation shall never perish, because the power of the Father and the Son sustains them.

“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."